Playoff Math: So You’re Telling Me There’s a Chance

Florham Park, NJ- Considering all the negative press the Jets have received over the past few weeks no one would blame you for believing they were competing for the worst record in the NFL and the rights to the first overall pick in the 2013 draft, but instead the team that the media has been treating as the laughing stock of the league is actually still competing for a playoff spot.

Right now the Jets have the eighth best record in the AFC and sit just one game behind the Steelers and the Bengals (both teams are 7-6) for the last wild card spot. The Steelers hold the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Jets, but one look at the math shows a few realistic paths the Jets could take to sneak into the playoffs. Problem is that’s assuming they can continue this winning streak and win their next three games, while the schedule is certainly favorable the Jets still aren’t playing like a team in the midst of a five game winning streak.

The math shows a few simple and realistic enough equations that could get the Jets back to the playoffs, it still seems like a long shot, mostly because it’s kind of hard to believe the Jets would be deserving of a playoff spot, but the math tells us there is, indeed, a chance.

Rex Ryan has been dealing with a lot of criticism from fans and the media this season, but despite all the failures from this season the Jets playoff hopes aren't as slim as you'd think. (JetsInisder.com Phot)

The Colts (9-4) have a comfortable two game lead over the Steelers and Bengals for the first wild card spot and finish with two games against the Texans and a game against the Chiefs (2-11) sandwiched in the middle. It’s hard to imagine the Chiefs beating Andrew Luck, but the game will be in Kansas City, outside in the cold of late December. The Colts last game of the season is against the Texans in Indianapolis, but the Texans might not have any reason to play any starters as they rest up for a playoff run. Stranger things have happened in the NFL than the Colts dropping their last three games like this, but this equation requires far too many variables to bother with at this time.

A simpler equation involves the Jets winning out and the Steelers and Bengals each losing just one game. In a head-to-head tiebreaker the Steelers would beat out the Jets thanks to their week two win in Pittsburgh, but what about a three way tie for the final wild card spot? Surprisingly enough, the Jets might just win that and let’s show you how.

Playoff tiebreakers start with head-to-head match ups, but in a three way tie without all teams having played each other the conference record becomes the tiebreaker. The Bengals are currently 5-5 in the AFC, with two AFC games remaining (as well as a Thursday night game in Philly this week), against the Steelers and the Ravens. If the Bengals win out then all this math becomes moot as the Jets don’t have enough games to catch up and the same goes for the Steelers obviously, but if the Bengals split the two AFC games they have left and beat the Eagles they will finish the season at 9-7 with a conference record of 6-6. The Steelers have a conference record of 4-6, with two conference games (Bengals and Browns) and a road game against the Cowboys this week. If the Steelers won both of the AFC games and lost to the Cowboys they would also finish the season 9-7 with a 6-6 record within the conference.

Meanwhile the Jets sit at 6-7, (4-5 in the conference) and all three of their remaining games are against AFC opponents. If they Jets continue to take care of business, no matter how they do it or how ugly it looks, they would end the season at 9-7 with a conference record of 7-5. If the Jets do win out there is nothing the Steelers can do to finish with a better conference record than the Jets, all they could do is win out and finish at 10-6. If the Bengals won both their AFC games but lost to the Eagles (not likely to happen), they’d again finish 9-7 and would also have a conference record of 7-5 sending us deeper into the complexity of NFL tiebreakers (the Bengals and Jets would also tie with a 3-2 record against common opponents).

Now here’s where we start to toy around with the variables to see all the possible outcomes. Because the Jets must win out (in reality this is actually false, but the Jets and their fans can’t bank on two different teams completely falling apart and losing two of their last three games), we’ll just assume the Jets take care of business and win out (not that we’ll assume it’ll actually happen but assume it for the sake of this article) and in the following scenario the Jets would find themselves in the playoffs.

1) Bengals beat the Eagles, then beat the Steelers and lose to the Ravens in the final week of the season (9-7, AFC record 6-6).

2) Steelers beat the Cowboys, lose to the Bengals and beat the Browns (9-7, AFC record 5-7).

3) Jets win out (9-7, AFC record 7-5).

Jets win final wild card spot.

The tricky part in this scenario is the Bengals must beat the Steelers (unless the Steelers lost their other two games) in order for the Jets to get in. If the Steelers beat the Bengals they will hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over both the Jets and Bengals and would get in as the final seed. Now if the Steelers lost to the Bengals, the Jets would still need the Bengals to lose to either the Eagles or the Ravens (preferably the Ravens to give the Jets the definite tiebreaker in conference record), but assuming the Steelers were to only lose one of their three remaining games the Jets would still need the Bengals to only lose one game to keep them in the equation and force the tiebreaker to conference record.

If the Steelers were to lose to the Cowboys and the Bengals, and again assuming the Jets win out, then they would find themselves on the outside of the playoff race and the Jets would need the Bengals to lose to the Ravens in week 17 to ensure themselves a spot in the playoffs. This is what that scenario would look like.

1) Bengals beat Eagles, then beat Steelers and lose to the Ravens (9-7, AFC record 6-6).

2) Steelers lose to Cowboys, lose to the Bengals and beat the Browns (8-8, AFC record 5-7).

3) Jets win out (9-7, AFC record 7-5)

Jets win final wild card spot.

The following scenario would lead to the most complex tiebreaker possibility.

1) Bengals lose to Eagles, beat Steelers and beat Ravens (9-7, AFC record 7-5).

2) Steelers, beat Cowboys, lose to Bengals and beat Browns (9-7, AFC record 6-6)

3) Jets win out (9-7, AFC record 7-5)

Jets, Steelers, Bengals tie. Jets and Bengals both beat Steelers in the next tiebreaker of conference record, but stay tied with each other. Jets and Bengals again tie with 3-2 records against common opponents, sending us to the next tiebreaker of strength of victory, then (if still tied) strength of schedule, then (if still tied) best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed, then (if still tied) best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed, then (if still tied) best net points in conference games, then (if still tied) best net points in all games, then (if still tied) best net touchdowns in all games and finally if still tied a coin toss would decide who made the playoffs. It’s easy to look at those tiebreaker scenarios and assume the Bengals would win those over the Jets due to the blowout losses the Jets have suffered this year, but there’s still three games left to play and while no one should expect the Jets to start dropping 50 points a week, we can’t begin to worry about that math with three unknown scores having to be totaled with the rest. Also important to note, if the Steelers were to lose two games and the Bengals lost to the Eagles but won both their AFC games this same exact tiebreaker would play out between the Jets and Bengals, but if the Steelers lost to the Cowboys and Browns and beat the Bengals then it would play out like this.

1) Bengals beat Eagles, lose to Steelers and beat Ravens (9-7, AFC record 6-6)

2) Steelers lose to Cowboys, beat Bengals and lose to Browns (8-8, AFC record 5-7)

3) Jets win out (9-7, AFC record 7-5)

Jets win final playoff spot.

There will be no recommendation to go to Vegas and bet your house on the Jets to make the playoffs, but the math shows that clearly the Jets season isn’t over quite yet. There are multiple scenarios that could play out (without even entertaining the more dramatic ones like the Colts losing all three games) to send the Jets to the playoffs. Any of these scenarios seem quite plausible, but the biggest obstacle would seem to be can the Jets possibly win their last three games and end the season on a five game winning streak? The Titans, Chargers and Bills are the remaining games and the Jets could, and frankly should, beat all three teams, but these are the Jets and that’s not how things tend to work around here.

Still with the running game rounding into shape and the defense playing it’s best football of the season the Jets playoff hopes are much more alive than any of us thought they’d be just a few weeks ago and even if the Jets miss the playoffs, but finish 9-7 or 8-8 it’ll be hard to call this season a complete disaster. No one picked the Jets to win 10 games or more and that was before they lost Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes for the season and had to deal with season long injuries to Dustin Keller, Sione Po’uha and seemingly every wide receiver who suited up for them.

A lot needs to happen for the Jets to squeak in the playoffs and the biggest concern is still themselves, but the odds are certainly better than one out of a million. So yes, I’m telling you there’s a chance.

4 Responses to “Playoff Math: So You’re Telling Me There’s a Chance”

  1. Kentucky Jet Says:

    and if we get into the playoffs, one and done will not cut it!

  2. Sjjetfan Says:

    The 3 way tiebreaker situation isn’t correct unfortunately. If NYJ, Cin, and Pit all tie at 9-7, Cin & Pit are settled to see who is the highest in the division. If Cin beats Pit, Pit will still win the tiebreaker vs Cin via division record. That leaves Pit vs NYJ and we lose that tiebreaker. If Pit gets to 9 wins we are essentially screwed.

    http://www.nfl.com/standings/tiebreakingprocedures

  3. Jimmy Says:

    The first tie-breaker is within the division. So in the case where Bengals and Steelers are tied, you have to break that tie first. Steelers would get the nod because they have a better division record in most cases. Bengals would get the nod if they beat the Ravens and Steelers.

    It’s only after this, that we do a tiebreaker in which case the Jets go up against the winner. Jets lose to the Steelers to head-to-head. Jets come out ahead on Cincinnati in some scenarios, come out behind in others. It sometimes goes all the way to strength of victory (but usually not further due to the Jets beating the Rams who have a tie). In any case, the things you should root for are:

    1. Root for Cincy, Indy and Pitt to lose.
    2. Root for Cincy to beat Pitt in week 16.
    3. Root for all teams Jets have beaten to win (except Indy, of course).

  4. Joe Says:

    I just ran a scenario on the playoff machine. If all three finish 9-7 it has the Steelers going to the playoffs. Sorry bro.